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The Infatuation: Helping Boston Foodies Find the Best Places to Eat

Smart, candid, tell-it-like-I-see-it local restaurant reviews paired with a fun Instagram experience

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Choosing where to eat in Boston can be a challenge, whether you’re a serious foodie or looking for a good restaurant to take out-of-town guests. What hot new restaurant is a must-try? Figuring out the eateries worth your time and money just got a little easier thanks to the popular New York–based restaurant review company the Infatuation, which has just added Boston to its 12 review cities (among others are Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Denver, Philly, San Francisco, Seattle, and London. The company also has stand-alone guides for 25 other major cities around the world.)

“Our goal is to tell you what it’s like to eat at a particular restaurant and whether it’s worth your time,” says Infatuation Boston staff writer Dan Secatore. “We’re going to tell you about the food, how the place feels, and a little bit about what it says about Boston right now. And we’re going to try to sound less like cooking school textbooks and more like human beings, because that’s what we are.”

Secatore makes it clear that he takes the food and restaurants he’s reviewing more seriously than the reviews themselves. “When humanity goes to Mars to build a replica Earth after we destroy the original, Space Boston will probably be so small that there’ll only be room for one seafood restaurant. Island Creek Oyster Bar is going to be that restaurant,” begins his cheeky review of the popular eatery near BU. It goes on: “This Kenmore Square spot is from the people behind the Island Creek Oyster Farm, who probably know more about what it takes to make great seafood than just about anyone else currently alive. And the result is a temple to oysters, a place to worship with mignonette instead of holy water.”

The Infatuation began in 2009 as a side project for cofounders Andrew Steinthal and Chris Stang, both former record company marketing execs. Its goal is simple: “to bring you the most honest and trustworthy opinions on where to eat around the world.” In just a decade, the company has gone on to acquire the popular restaurant review guide Zagat from Google and recently received millions in financial backing from media mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg.

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Today it has a portfolio that includes a website with reviews and guides for cities around the world, an app, a personalized restaurant recommendation text messaging service, and newsletters tailored for individual cities. And if you’re a foodie and on social media, chances are you’ve come across, maybe even used, their branded hashtag #EEEEEATS, which to date has been tagged more than 15.5 million times on Instagram by epicures who want to have their food snaps seen by millions.

Christopher Muller, a School of Hospitality Administration professor of the practice, says that what makes the Infatuation’s reviews stand out “is the clever, post-ironic written commentary. It builds up the trust factor for readers. There is an intimate ‘I’m talking to a friend’ ethic, which, like some food, creates a craveable component to the reviews. It’s very compelling.”

Reviewers are highly trained and highly opinionated. They show up unannounced to a restaurant, use aliases, and by policy, never accept special treatment of any kind. Reviewed restaurants are assigned a points rating on a scale from 0 to 10. So far, the Leather District’s O Ya has received the highest rating in Boston—a 9.4.

“There is no type of restaurant we won’t review,” says Secatore. “We have food court stalls on the site alongside places with white tablecloths and tasting menus.” They don’t cover restaurant openings or public relations events that wine and dine food writers for free. “We don’t accept any free meals or favors from restaurants or PR groups—we’re only beholden to our community.”

Secatore is currently the only Boston staff writer, but he says there are plans to add more writers and editors. He also pens the website’s several local restaurant guides. Some are divided by neighborhood (“Where to Eat and Drink in Central Square”), while others target such useful specifics as “Where to Have a Group Dinner” or “Where to Go Instead of Legal Sea Foods When Someone Suggests Legal Sea Foods Again.”

What distinguishes the Infatuation from many other competitors is the way it has embraced and adopted social media and married smart, sharply observed reviews with the Instagram-worthy concept adopted by so many foodies. Besides its main Instagram page, @infatuation, with original photos that drive to reviews and guides on the website as well as photos tagged by other users, it has pages for its individual cities. It also manages pages dedicated to popular foods—@icecream, @tacos, @burger, and more, allowing the brand to reach wide audiences.

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Graduate student Nina Levine (SSW, SPH), who runs the popular food-centric Instagram account @tastes2totango, says that she looks to the Infatuation’s Instagram content when traveling to other cities “to see what places are most Insta-worthy or popular in the area.” She also uses their hashtags on her posts in hope of getting some of her photos reposted or to spread the word about a place she likes. Levine and dental student Emily Chan (SDM), who is behind the local food account @bostonfoodgram, both say that they also seek out the Infatuation’s Instagram stories, particularly a series dubbed “Restaurant review ride-alongs” that provides an element of video coverage to restaurants being reviewed.

“Today, Instagram and the concept of ‘food porn’ have taken the customer endorsement to a new level,” says Muller. It is precisely the Infatuation’s unique adaptation to the phenomenon, he says, that has made it “a kind of ‘next stage’ online review, anonymous, paid for, but customer driven. It is situated in a very good place for the zeitgeist, very in-the-moment.”

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Mara Sassoon, Editorial/Production Manager at Boston University Marketing and Communications
Mara Sassoon

Mara Sassoon can be reached at msassoon@bu.edu. Follow her on Twitter at @M_Sass_1, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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